Monday, April 17, 2017

My Hand-Me-Down Phone

The things are everywhere.  On the streets people are talking into them.  On the train, they’re watching movies or tapping messages on finger sensing screens.  At any time of day they’re pulling them out of pockets, bags or those whaddyacallit slipcases they keep them in to see if there are any incoming messages.  If they lack information of any kind, they’re there for googling.  If they want to know the weather, the screen throws up cloud, sun and raindrop icons to guide them through the remaining hours of the day.  If they want to know where on earth they actually are, the things can tell them with seeming pinpoint accuracy.  If they want to know how something’s done, the things have videos to show them.

I’ve tried to keep up with technology.  I went from an Amstrad to a PC with all of a massive two gigabytes of hard drive memory, to the laptops I use today with their squidgywiggabytes and more.  But somewhere in the last decade or so I found I’d stopped being an up-to-date sort of guy.

At first I was up for resisting them altogether.  I didn’t need them.  Good grief, I’d lived for a full fifty years without them and I was still here to tell the tale.  Why should the future be any different?

The first crack in my defences was driving.  I have next to no idea what happens under the bonnet of my car and if it goes wrong, the job goes to a rescue service.  Some bugger or other pointed out to me that phone boxes are getting pretty thin on the ground these days, and if I had a phone with me in the car…

Damn!  I could not deny the logic.  I think my younger sister had something to do with that.  She’d ‘updated’ and had an old one I could have.  It was a clunky great thing compared to what’s around today and when you charged up the battery it would last up to a good… ooh… ten minutes or so.  But fine.  I could keep it in the car, switched off.  Just use it in dire need.  I didn’t want to go a step further.  I could just about handle it.

It got broken.  I forget how.  By then my sister had got her first smartphone and was cultivating a taste for it.  The road of temptation for her began with the inbuilt solitaire game.  Now she plays Scrabble on it with people from the USA.  And checks for messages, and the weather, and…  Yes.  She’s hooked.

So I got my next hand-me-down.  A Nokia something something something, I believe it’s called.  Somehow against my better judgement I was forced to learn to text message on it, which I still do clumsily and slowly with a lot of cursing.  By day, I use it to make phonecalls, because somewhere along the line I got on a ‘contract’ which I have no idea how to get out of, and my landline costs money if used before 7pm on weekdays.

But that’s it.  I’ve reached my limit.  I don’t want to tap screens with greasy fingermarks.  I don’t want to make things get bigger and smaller by sweeping with my fingertips.  I just…  I just don’t.

One thing haunts me.  What will I do when my Nokia something something something finally gives up the ghost?  Will my sister have one of those things ready and waiting for me, because she’s updated to a device on which she can play Hyper-Scrabble with creatures from Proxima Centauri?

Oh, good grief…  Will I finally have to crawl, protesting grouchily all the way, into the twenty first century?

Okay, behind all this 'grumpy old man' foolery there's a serious point to be made on this topic, which returned to my attention after reading a review in New Scientist magazine of a film shown at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London.  'Complicit', the film, documents the suffering of Chinese workers in the factories where smartphones are manufactured.  They are exposed to toxic chemicals on the production line, chiefly benzene and n-hexane, which give rise to leukemia, nerve damage and paralysis.  In addition, anyone making a protest is subject to often brutal repression.  Although Apple have, since 2014, banned benzene and n-hexane in final assembly manufacturing processes, these are by no means the only unethical aspects of most smartphone production.  Should I ever find myself having finally to 'update' to one of these devices I would go to a company known as Fairphone ( which appears to be bringing the principles of fair trade to smartphone production, along with considerations around re-use and repair issues.  So they probably deserve this plug.

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